Book Review: Turner, Central Europe Profiled, Reviewed by Emilian Kavalski
- Balkan Academic Book Review 33/2001
Barry Turner, Central Europe Profiled. Essential Facts on Society, Business and Politics in Central Europe. London: Macmillan, 2000. 308 pp., 17.95 USD, ISBN: 0312229941 (paperback).
Reviewed by Emilian Kavalski (University of Loughborough, UK) Email: E.R.Kavalski@...
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Defining the different regions of Europe has become one of the most vexed issues in contemporary social, economic and political discourse. The fluidity of terms such as Western, Eastern, Southeastern, etc., Europe has introduced a further dimension of complexity in discussions on the post-Cold War European developments. It is in this light that Barry Turner's book can be put in its proper context. His is not only an attempt to capture the meaning of Central Europe, but also an endeavor at profiling its society, economy and politics. To what extent has he achieved this is questionable. However, Turner manages to provide a comprehensive overview of the region, and what is even more significant, he succeeds in relating the transitory nature of his findings. His data, per se, is a caption of Central European countries at a particular moment in time (the beginning of the year 2000), and Turner acknowledges the open-ended character of his profiling. In a nutshell, the end of his book is not the end of the story.
Turner takes his definition of Central Europe from the Visegrad Group in its 1990 make-up (the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia). However, he quickly abandons the ramifications of this definition by both limiting and expanding its meaning (which is a source of confusion for the reader). On the one hand, he makes it plain from the outset that the term Central Europe-proper pertains mainly to the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland; while, on the other hand, he includes the rest of the former Soviet-Bloc countries (with the exception of Russia and Ukraine) into his discussion. In this way, Turner's book can be roughly divided into two complementary parts.
The first one concentrates on the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. This part comprises of separate sections on each of these countries respectively. Turner takes a profound look into different aspects of the social, cultural, political and economic life and evinces the main trends and issues underscoring their ideational horizons. In this respect, the book makes a good exposition of the state of affairs in these three countries, which would be an extremely helpful point of reference for any student or researcher of the region, as well as anyone with an interest in these particular countries. In fact, from a certain perspective, this part of the book can be viewed as a rough guide to the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. It furnishes an essential historical background for the contemporary processes, takes a look at the major urban centres in each of these countries, their main industries and implications for the larger economic, cultural and political picture of the region. Turner also provides information about travelling, entertainment and leisure in these countries. Many would find very beneficial the profile of leading cultural and political figures, as well as their personal impact on current affairs. However, despite its practical usefulness as a tourist gateway to Central Europe, Turner puts a particular normative twist to his investigation, which distinguishes his exploration from any rough guide or compilation of statistical data on the same issue.
The second part of the book, which is only about (if not less than) a third of its size provides a very brief overview of Albania, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, the Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), what is left of Yugoslavia (Montenegro, Serbia, Kosovo and Metohija, and Vojvodina) and the states that came about after the break-up of Yugoslavia (Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia and Slovenia). This section is characterised by sweeping generalizations and broad overviews, which are impossible to avoid, when one takes into consideration the brief nature of the presentations on each of these political entities. This brings to the fore the question, why had Turner included them, when he clearly does not perceive them as belonging to the Central European domain? However, what is significant about these entries is the way, in which Turner moves away from the nation-state approach employed in the discussion of the first part of the book. Instead, he favors a more community-based perspective (especially in the cases of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo and Metohija, and Vojvodina). Nevertheless, Turner's profile of Central Europe does not gain much (if anything) from attaching this part (at least in its present form) to his book. As a matter of fact, the second part of the book leaves the impression that the author is uncertain about some aspects of his topic and, in effect, puts a question mark on his earlier explorations in the first part.
Regardless of the latter comments, Turner's book provides a valuable starting point for understanding Central Europe (in particular, to issues relating to the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland). Also, his approach to the question of definition of the area of his exploration provides quite an interesting example for researchers in Regional Studies, confronted with similar issues about other parts of the world. It will therefore be very useful for anyone working and dealing with Central European topics; and, perhaps, it would provoke others to further and elaborate the issues stirred up by Turner's research.
This an earlier book reviews are available at: www.seep.ceu.hu/balkans
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